On Pret-a-Manger running out of fresh ideas. Are private equity firm Bridgepoint and Goldman Sachs squeezing the customer?

Hobbes, they say that the first step is always to recognise the problem. OK Hobbes, I agree, I have an addiction. Well, more than one, but this one is cheese-related.

I am a keen Pret a Manger victim, and the guilty sin is their Posh Cheddar & Pickle Artisan Baguette. I have gone through many tantrums with the company. Over time the baguette has turned into a petit baguette, the price has ridden the oil, milk and wheat price increases but stayed there since the summer (£2.99) regardless of falling commodity prices.

I guess, in a way, I should be grateful of their amazing shrinking Posh Cheddar & Pickle Artisan Baguette. According to their website, as of today, £2.99 buy me 779 kcal, 29.8g of protein (g), 76.5g of carbohydrate ( of which 4.1g sugars), 38.9g of fat (of which 15.6g saturates), 5.3g of dietary fibre whatever that means, and 0.5048g of sodium (formerly known as common table salt.)

They don’t franchise their stores, so I guess they have corporate strategies set up from head office. A few months ago their staff hit me with out-of-place questions about the weather, and today, today I felt like walking into a Pret-a-Mangerbucks.

Yep, jazzy music playing. I know they have just come up with this massively expensive artisan baguettes with prices over £4 (not very credit crunch friendly, I must say), but I don’t think that trying to emulate “the third place” Starbucks strategy (Schultz’s straggling at the moment) is going to work. It felt catching up. It felt wrong.

Perhaps the owners of 75% of the business, Bridgepoint and Goldman Sachs (not clear how McDonalds 33% non-controlling stake in the USA branch of the company or the 25% that the founders kept works in this case) don’t really know much about sandwiches.

Second thoughts, I see Pret’s founders buying back their 75% (if they can get the money) at a massive discount in 2009. Capitalism at its best.



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